Unemployment Rate Decreases Slightly

A Labor Department report showed that the October unemployment rate fell a tenth of a percent to 9 percent in October. Friday's number was less than what most economists had hoped for.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ: And I'm Guy Raz. And we begin this hour with a number, 80,000 - that's how many jobs the U.S. economy added last month according to the Labor Department. And the unemployment rate fell slightly, as well, to 9 percent. Now, while any job growth is a positive sign, NPR's Chris Arnold reports that today's number was less than most economists had hoped for. It's also not nearly enough to keep up with the number of people in need of work.

CHRIS ARNOLD: The economy averaged 114,000 new jobs a month since August, which might sound like a good thing, but there are about 14 million Americans unemployed and looking for work. Add to that population growth and, by one estimate, at this rate it would take 30 years to bring down unemployment to pre-recession levels. And speaking from the G20 Summit in France, President Obama said today that this is why Congress should pass his jobs bill.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My hope is, is that folks back home, including those in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, when they look at today's job numbers, which were positive, but indicate, once again, that the economy's growing way too slow, that they think twice before they vote no again.

ARNOLD: Still, there's been some progress. The number of people unemployed for more than six months fell pretty sharply, down by about 500,000 people. But that still leaves more than 5 million people who've been out of work longer than six months and some of them much longer.

MARK HOFFMAN: I was laid off in December of 2008 from Citibank.

ARNOLD: Mark Hoffman(ph) is 49 years old and still out of work. He used to be in charge of some back office computer systems at the bank and he made around $100,000 a year. We found him yesterday at the Occupy Boston protest. And his struggle over the past few years mirrors what's happened with a lot of Americans.

HOFFMAN: I've gone through my unemployment. I've virtually ended up wiping out my 401(k).

ARNOLD: Hoffman says after a year or so, he just kind of gave up.

HOFFMAN: Hopelessness is a good description. It reaches a point where you just - you know, there is no way out.

ARNOLD: So what Hoffman eventually did was change careers or at least he's trying to. He's going back to school to become, of all things, a locksmith.

HOFFMAN: Locksmithing is a nice puzzle. I went into technology because I liked puzzles and problems. Locksmithing is puzzles and problems.

ARNOLD: And Hoffman says you can't outsource it.

HOFFMAN: There's also a lot of new technology in locksmithing, a lot of access control is card-based.

ARNOLD: Oh, that's interesting. Yeah, so you can do a physical lock installation, but then also do a security swipe card.

HOFFMAN: Right.

ARNOLD: Hoffman probably won't make as much money as he used to, but what he's doing likely makes a lot of sense. John Silvia is the chief economist at Wells Fargo.

JOHN SILVIA: Many people are coming to the realization that the old job and the old location are not going to suffice and they have to change jobs or change careers and/or change location.

ARNOLD: You can see this with retail workers. The country has lost hundreds of thousands of retail jobs since the recession hit and with more automated checkout kiosks at grocery stores and pharmacies and then there's all the online shopping, many of those jobs just may not be coming back. So some people who used to work in retail need to find other kinds of work and that leads to what economists refer to as structural unemployment, people without the right skills to get new jobs or who just live in the wrong place.

SILVIA: Chairman Bernanke's question and answer period earlier this week, how much of this 9 percent unemployment is structural. From our point of view, probably 2 to 2 and a half percent of this is structural.

ARNOLD: Meaning that the unemployment rate would be a lot lower if job seekers had the right skills. This is why so many economists are saying that retraining and education are especially important in this economic recovery. Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.

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